New York City continues along a very cautious path to reopening. As the world knows, we endured a horrific episode as the epicenter of the pandemic earlier in the year. Once we got the problem under control, we have maintained low infection and hospitalization rates through a combination of public participation in mask-wearing and social distancing and a very measured and phased reopening strategy. The city has just decided that outdoor dining is to be a permanent fixture.
In the most recent reopening phase, restaurants were allowed greater latitude in constructing outdoor dining areas. Following the trend to make more streets in the city more pedestrian friendly, the Open Streets program added guidelines by which restaurants could construct barriers and seating areas on sidewalks and in streets provided a rigorous set of protocols were followed that allowed for social distancing between patrons.
The “Open Restaurants” program has proven successful with over 10,300 restaurants enrolled since June. Simultaneously, our COVID19 numbers have remained in check, and New York State and New York City have been looking for creative ways to assist the economic recovery of the restaurant industry.
“Open Restaurants was a big, bold experiment in supporting a vital industry and reimaging our public space. And it worked,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. “As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”
“Restaurants are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods, and seeing them opening back up on our sidewalks and streets has cheered all of us,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been. “Continuing Open Restaurants and Open Streets will allow our streets to pulse with energy into the cooler season, keep people working, boost everyone’s spirits, and help drive our economic recovery.”
I have ventured out occasionally to check on my favorite restaurants, most of which are small independently owned, often family-run establishments.
I have been eating at Tea & Sympathy (pictured below) for over twenty years. This British tea shop and restaurant in the West Village is one of my mainstays, and I have been concerned about it ever since the world shut down. T&S has only 9 tables. As you can see here, they have been able to move all of those tables outdoors and have returned to doing steady business.
On September 30, indoor dining will be allowed at 25% capacity. For Tea & Sympathy, this means they will be allowed to serve two tables inside the restaurant. When I spoke with the staff, they confirmed that the outdoor dining area will stay even into the winter.
Indeed, the city has confirmed that the Open Restaurants outdoor dining program has been made permanent and extended indefinitely. “Extending Open Restaurants year-round and making the program a permanent New York City fixture will help revitalize neighborhoods and the economy while putting the health and safety of New Yorkers first,” said James Patchett, President and CEO of New York City Economic Development Corporation. “The program allows people and small businesses rather than cars to use our curbside lanes. This all means more public space for New Yorkers and a healthier, more walkable city.”
As part of the program, restaurants will also be permitted to use tent enclosures and outdoor heaters to keep diners warm. According to the announcement, in partial tent enclosures, at least 50% of the tent’s side wall surface area must remain open and electrical heaters are allowed. In full tent enclosures, the tent’s side walls may be closed but occupancy limitations will be capped at 25% of capacity, and indoor dining guidelines must be followed; electrical heaters will also be allowed.
Enclosed structures, such as plastic domes, will be allowed for individual parties and must have adequate ventilation to allow for air circulation.